On September 9, 1890, Colonel Harland Sanders was born on a farm outside Henryville, Indiana. More than 30 years after his death, the man in the trademark white suit and black string tie who pioneered Kentucky Fried Chicken’s “finger-lickin’ good” secret recipe remains the public face of the fast-food chain. Check out eight surprising facts about the fried-chicken tycoon.
1. Sanders opened his first restaurant inside a gas station.
When Sanders first began to serve meals to truck drivers at an old family dining room table wheeled into the front of his Corbin, Kentucky, service station in 1930, fried chicken was not on the menu because it took too long to prepare. His country ham and steak dinners proved so popular, however, that he soon opened Sanders’ Café across the street and began to serve chicken fried in an iron skillet. Food critic Duncan Hines included the restaurant in his 1935 road-food guide, and it was there in 1939 that the colonel used pressure cookers to perfect his quick-frying chicken coated in his secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices.
2. He wounded a business rival in a deadly shootout.
The hotheaded Sanders never backed down from a fight, which served him well in the rough-and-tumble “Hell’s Half-Acre” neighborhood that surrounded his Shell Oil gas station. When the future fast-food giant painted advertising signs on barns for miles around, the aggressive marketing tactic rankled Matt Stewart, who operated a nearby Standard Oil gas station. Told that Stewart was painting over one of his signs for a second time, Sanders rushed to the scene with two Shell executives. According to Josh Ozersky’s book “Colonel Sanders and the American Dream,” Stewart exchanged his paintbrush for a gun and fatally shot Shell district manager Robert Gibson. Sanders returned fire and wounded Stewart in the shoulder. Stewart was sentenced to 18 years in prison for murder, but charges against Sanders were dropped after his arrest.
3. Sanders served in the military but was an honorary colonel.
Sanders, who falsified his birth date in order to enlist in the U.S. Army in 1906, served in Cuba for several months before his honorable discharge. In 1935, Kentucky Governor Ruby Laffoon issued a ceremonial decree that commissioned Sanders as an honorary colonel. After a second honorary commission in 1949, Sanders embraced the title and tried to look the part by growing facial hair and donning a black frock coat and string tie. Soon after, the colonel switched to a white suit, which helped to hide flour stains, and bleached his mustache and goatee to match his white hair.
4. The colonel delivered babies and practiced law before hitting it big in fast food.
Sanders had an extremely varied résumé before finding success in the fried chicken business in his 60s. As a young man, he toiled as a farmhand and streetcar conductor before working for railroad companies across the South. Aspiring to be the next Clarence Darrow, Sanders studied law by correspondence and practiced in justice-of-the-peace courts in Arkansas until a courtroom brawl with a client derailed his legal career. He operated a steamboat ferry that crossed the Ohio River between Kentucky and Indiana, and he sold life insurance and automobile tires. During his time in Corbin, Sanders even delivered babies. “There was nobody else to do it,” Sanders recounted in his autobiography. “The husbands couldn’t afford a doctor when their wives were pregnant.” Read More